Neath Abbey is an impressive ruin. The land was granted in 1129 by Richard de Granville. He gave 8000 acres at Neath to the Abbey of Savigny, Normandy for the establishment of Neath Abbey. Building began in 1130 and then destroyed in 1539.
When it was first built many rich and influential people, who hoped to buy themselves a place in Heaven, gave the Abbey gifts of land. The Abbey acquired land in Neath and as far afield as the banks of the Loughor in “Gwlad Nini”. Land was important to the Abbey, where the monks could grow food on the land or use it to produce goods which they sold to earn money.
Neath Abbey was in the diocese of Llandaff, while the area around Cwrt Y Carnau and Llandeilo Talybont was in St Davids. There was a lot of argument about which Bishop controlled what lands, so sometime after 1176, the monks of Neath Abbey took the precaution of recording all their gifts, particularly the land that had been given to them, and asked Bishop Leia of St Davids to sign it as confirmation that the land belonged to the Abbey. These Charters were held at Neath Abbey but have unfortunately been lost, however the Bishop’s copy called the Confirmatory Charter of Bishop Leia has survived.
The record of Cwrt Y Carnau says (translated from Latin) “... in the land which Geoffrey Panchefot held the fief of Llandeilo Talybont, which falls between the waters of the Lliw and Loughor and between the streams which fall into the Loughor, which Henry de Villers gave to the monks in alms, with the consent of Henry de Warwick; the Chapel of St Michael, with the land and pastures and other easements, which they have of Henry de Villers.” (31)
Neath Abbey established the grange at Cwrt Y Carnau sometime between 1176 and 1198. The monks and lay brothers probably worked the farm initially but later as the Abbey became richer, like many other religious houses of the time, the monks started to rent out their farms and used the rent money to buy what they needed. This gave them an easier life, as they didn’t have to do the manual work themselves. (See page on Cwrt Y Carnau)
Neath Abbey owned several other properties in the area, mostly mills which used the power of local rivers, including the Lliw and Llan, to turn the machinery. They also controlled the Church at Llandeilo Talybont and received tithes from the Parish. (See pages on Llandeilo Talybont)
The other local properties owned by the monks included Cadle Mill, Melyn Mynach (Monks’ Mill) , Melin Llan and Loughor Mill. The monks obviously exerted an influence over the area as, by the end of the Middle Ages, the Abbot of Neath Abbey had the right to appoint the Parish Priest of Llandeilo Talybont even though the parish was actually in St Davids diocese.
The monks worked the weaving mill and two flour mills, which provided food and clothing for the Abbey and some surplus for sale. By the end of the 13th Century the monks at Melyn Mynach owned vast acreage devoted to sheep farming. The fleeces that they produced were sent to Cwrt Y Carnau, which turned it into high quality wool, to be traded in Flanders and Italy.
By the end of the Middle Ages the Abbot of Neath Abbey had the right to appoint the Parish Priest of Llandeilo Talybont even though it was actually in St Davids diocese.
King Henry VIII passed laws in 1534 to close or dissolve the monasteries. The Dissolution of the Monasteries, involved closing them down and making the monks retire. The buildings were pulled down or sold and the lands were often sold to local gentry.
Neath Abbey was “dissolved” in 1539. Local land owners bought much of the Abbey’s lands and so there is a link between the lands in the “Gwlad Nini” area and many old Estates in Neath.
Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell purchased Neath Abbey in 1542 and started the enlargement of the property into a mansion for his family. The project was not finished and in 1600 he sold the Abbey on to Sir John Herbert.
John Pryce alias John ap Rhys ab Ieuan of Queen Elizabeth' 5 was a local man who had moved to London where he worked as a lawyer. In 1575 he came back and bought Cwrt Y Carnau presumably from the Crown. His name “of Queen Elizabeth “ suggests that he may have worked for the Crown and would have been in a good place to buy the lands. He later went on to buy the nearby Pryscedwyn lands and possibly much more. His descendants held many of the major estates of the area, including Bach Y Gwreiddyn, Penllergare, Nydfwch, Pryscedwin and Cwrt Y Carnau.
Llys Nini is very close to Cwrt Y Carnau and Llandeilo Talybont but there is no record that Llys Nini was ever owned by the church or Neath Abbey in particular